Oliver Heath, Cerys Jones (violins), Gary Pomeroy (viola), Christopher Murray (cello). Mozart, Adagio & Fugue in Cm K546 (1788); Ravel, Quartet in F (1903); Tchaikovsky, Quartet No 1 in Opus 11 (1871).
Are we reaching the nirvanic stage where to report a Heath Quartet Coffee Concert could simply comprise three words: ‘Say no more’? Such is the listening satisfaction they now provide and the artistic and performing integrity. The four parts of their sum grow with each appearance in Brighton and we are comforted into the confidence that in another 10 years’ time we will be no less gratified.
There will be lovers of the works Heath played this time who have their own interpretative preferences which may not have coincided with the Heath’s vision, but even they surely could have had little quibble with this Sunday morning serving-up. If afterwards you had asked the audience to choose between either the prospect of a tasty brunch or three quartets played by Heath I’m pretty sure the result would had been divided between those who chose Heath and the rest who insisted on both.
The fullness of sound, the assurance of delivery, and the obvious enjoyment of its transmission were all there to experience. It all had a maturing roundedness.
Mozart had the dark, guttural gravitas you wanted. The Ravel came in a totally authentic atmosphere, each instrument and the whole four speaking rich French, and sounding in the pizzicato Scherzo like not one but several guitars. In the trio I felt summer evening zephyrs on my face and, in Gary Pomeroy’s viola, the oncoming sensuous night. And the Tchaikovsky the direct, unsentimental, unguarded emotion, powered by fire, orchestral suggestion and his fond and intergral national folk element.
If this represented any advance over the previous occasion we heard them, was anything different this time? Well, Heath now stand and deliver. They were on their feet instead of sitting down. We’ve not seen them do that before. We’ve seen the Apollo Musagette Quartet from Poland do so and we’ve perceived an unfetteredness.
I chatted with Heath cellist Christopher Murray - the only player unable to stand up - about this and several other things.
“Yes, we’ve been standing for around six months, now. Like the Emmerson Quartet and a few others who do it. I think it was suggested when Oliver had a back strain and we realised this might help him. When you are anchored in a sitting position you’re not as loose. We’ve found standing up gives us more freedom of movement and more space.”
I noticed it means no fancy heels for Cerys Matthews. Heath’s Welsh (Cardiff) mum was wearing much more sensible shoes for the long morning haul, hidden under her full-length back dress, plain except the gold shoulders. The guys were in their black suits with individual ties.
So, Chris, with everyone much higher up, you were going to be slightly subterranean, still sitting. Did you make your special new portable cello-player’s dais, with these fold-up hinges and battens at the front and back for your rear chair legs and the cello endpin?
“That’s right. It’s my DIY, and I bought the special stool as well. The materials were from B&Q. I thought I needed something tailor-made.”
Gary Pomeroy, the South African with the pierced ear: “Chris comes from a family of sailors, so don’t be surprised!” Gary is bending over, dissembling the dais and, as I suspect, as in any band, it’s only fair they take turns at packing it down after a concert – especially those who elected to stand up. A chamber musician should equal a co-operative and democratic partner in crime. So the evidence proves this morning.
We have only one recording available of Heath’s work, Chris, and yet we have heard you here over so many years and you are now such frequent broadcasters on national radio? “Yes, it took such a long time for our debut CD to come out, and only in the autumn last year, but being on the Wigmore LIVE label, we were in a long queue waiting to be recorded and released. The [five] Tippett quartets on it we actually recorded two years ago.”
Harmonia Mundi, though, have got the Heath signed up, and this year two CDs are on the way, of Tchaikovsky and Bartok.
So, Chris, after all these 32 years since The Lindsays’ Peter Cropper innovated chamber Music in the Round at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, I was wondering in how many venues you must by now play in that format? “It’s still just the two: Sheffield and here at the Brighton Coffee concerts.”
Yes, like me, be shocked, a little dismayed . . . But feel fortunate. There is no better way to experience chamber music.
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